The Alabama Crimson Tide did something at the 2020 NFL Draft which had not occurred since 2016.
By Matt Zemek
Hmmm… what could it be?
The Tide’s four first-round picks had been replicated in 2018.
The Tide’s five Day 2 picks (the second and third rounds) were also attained in 2017.
Oh, wait — you mean this is a negative question, not a positive one? Well, sort of.
It’s true: In 2020, Alabama took home an NFL Draft haul of nine picks, which marked the first time since 2016 that the Crimson Tide failed to notch a double-digit number of NFL Draft picks.
One could say Alabama “failed” at this draft, but of course, any narrow statement of fact which says that Alabama’s 2020 number was “lower” at this draft than 2017 through 2019 is nitpicking.
The far more remarkable aspect of this fact — that Alabama finally produced a single-digit number of NFL Draft picks for the first time in four years — is that the Tide had three straight years with 10 or more picks. It speaks to the extraordinary consistency and top-tier quality of Nick Saban’s program.
You can look it up: In 2017 and 2019, Alabama generated 10 NFL Draft picks, and in 2018, the Tide swept 12 players into the draft. If you’re nitpicking, you will focus on the smaller number of picks, but if you’re looking at the big picture, you will see that this 2020 draft is very much in line with other recent Bama drafts; it is not out of step in any meaningful way.
Notice the Michigan Wolverines’ 2020 draft. Technically, Michigan did have more draft picks (10) than Alabama’s nine. Yet, you saw who was the better team in the Citrus Bowl… with Tua Tagovailoa being unable to play. Michigan’s draft picks came primarily from Rounds 5 and 6 (seven picks total). Jim Harbaugh’s team developed only two picks in the first three rounds.
All nine of Alabama’s 2020 picks came from the first three rounds.
Michigan’s draft haul was the equivalent of an Olympic nation getting a truckload of bronze medals. Alabama had lots of golds and silvers. Even in a “down” year — at least if measured against 2017, 2018 and 2019 — Alabama’s draft was the second-best in the country. Yes, it was better than Ohio State’s 10-player haul as well. The Buckeyes had three players taken in either Round 6 or 7. Alabama had nine players taken in the first two days of the draft, OSU only seven. Alabama had four first-rounders to OSU’s three. If you live in Ohio and want to call it a tie, fine… but Alabama produced more high-end players, which ought to be the main point of pride — and distinction — among elite programs.
This brings us to the final and most important thesis in this column: What Alabama did at the 2020 NFL Draft magnifies LSU’s accomplishments in 2019. It’s not as though Alabama was “weak” this past season; it was weaker than it normally is, but that is a relative term. Alabama still scored 41 points on LSU’s defense, still played one of the most entertaining games of the whole college football season, and still showed that if Tua could be merely 75 percent effective, that was still a formidable team.
It took 14 draft picks, 10 from the first two days, and 12 through the first four rounds — with a Heisman Trophy winner, and with first-round picks at QB, WR and RB in the same draft (an LSU first!) — to stem the Tide and bring a national title to Baton Rouge for the first time in 12 years.
If you thought the magnitude of LSU’s national championship had been fully captured by the start of April, the NFL Draft added one more piece of relevant context.